Nursing homes are often overbooked with residents and understaffed. A single nurse may have to take care of 54 residents on a single night shift. One healthcare aide may need to get 14 residents up and ready for breakfast in the morning.
It’s not difficult to imagine that care of residents under these circumstances must be less than ideal.
And to make matters worse, violence among residents is on the rise. One CBC article reported that there were 10 times as many attacks among Ontario nursing home residents as there were five years ago.
Given the lack of training nursing home staff get in dealing with violence, and the fact that nursing homes are understaffed to begin with, this has created a serious problem for all involved.
Dr. Mark Lachs of Cornell University in New York City led a study on violence among residents in nursing homes. ”I personally think… that it’s far more prevalent than any other form of… aggression that you see in older people,” he said in an interview.
This is only the second published report on resident-on- resident violence in nursing homes. Lachs said he has seen lots of evidence that this is a problem, as front-line nursing home workers will testify. “But for some reason it’s not on the radar screen.”
Lachs and his research team looked at police records of elderly people. Overall, 747 residents who were living independently at the outset of the study were placed in long-term care. Forty-two of these residents were involved in 79 different incidents in which the police had to be called.
According to the study, competition over a seat in front of the TV, unwanted touching, or a resident wandering into another’s room were some of the reasons for the assaults.
Many residents suffer from mental health issues, such as dementia, and are not always in control of their behavior. ”It stands to reason that they would be interacting in a way that could be potentially assaultive or physically violent,” Lachs said.
Despite the fact that violence is involved, Lachs doesn’t use the term “elder abuse.” Lachs explains that resident-on- resident violence is rarely malicious and instead is usually due to confusion in one or both people involved.
More research needs to be done in the area of resident violence. Triggers are not well understood, and nursing home staff are untrained to deal with this complex problem. Their own safety is often at risk, as well.
“It’s an important area, it’s very understudied, and there are some very important questions,” Lachs concluded.